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Community Practitioner - August 2008
Learning in time

Musical Minis is one example of the kind of pre-school programme that could address many EYFS framework objectives

Karen Sherr

Child psychologist and Musical Minis founder

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework¹ comes into effect in September 2008, and it has been referred to as the ‘nappy curriculum’ because it identifies goals and standards for development of a child from birth onwards.

Any pre-school programme, however informal or relaxed, should incorporate outcomes if the child is to benefit from attendance. Musical Minis was created in 1989 as a child-centred programme aiming specifically to help promote cognitive, physical and social development through the use of music. It is designed for children from birth to pre-school age, and encompasses many EYFS framework objectives.

Purpose and structure

Musical Minis uses a combination of music – ranging from jazz through classical to traditional children’s songs – stories, instruments and puppets. Each part of the programme has a purpose and helps to teach the child a particular skill or social accomplishment, helping each to achieve their full potential. Every session is structured, allowing children to become familiar with the programme. The format includes action songs for co-ordination, musical statues to help develop listening skills, laying musical instruments to explore sounds and effects, a story to teach rhythm, and nursery rhymes and songs to encourage speech. Each song has been recorded at a pace suitable for young children to follow, and is chosen with child development in mind, with actions to improve a cognitive or co-ordination skill. Children and carers sit in a circle so that everyone can see and be seen. Babies who are unable to sit unsupported sit on their carer’s lap or in a car seat.

Children are encouraged to learn to shake in time to the music, developing a sense of rhythm

Singing, moving and playing

The session starts with a name song, which is meant to help babies begin to develop a sense of self by recognising their name. Older children who can sing their own names are praised, building their confidence. The participants quickly become integrated, sharing experiences as a group. The children are encouraged to sing, clap, identify parts of their bodies and to copy simple actions through the use of action songs. It is important that carers assist children with each action, by either touching the child or by following the words themselves – the session leader is only there as a guide. Pre-school children like to demonstrate the actions and sing the words of favourite rhymes, thereby developing both fine and gross motor skills. This part of the programme combines many skills such as listening, anticipation, language development, rhythm and relating to other children. During the instrument session, the youngest children respond to the rhythms, colours, shapes and feel of the instruments. For the very young baby, this is an exciting kaleidoscope of movement, colour and sound. The babies are beginning to discover their own hands and feet, and are gaining use of their muscles. Small instruments can be held by the baby, for them to enjoy discovering the shape and sound. Toddlers enjoy the variety of music and instruments, and learn to share and explore sounds. Children are encouraged to learn to shake in time to the music, developing a sense of rhythm – something that could assist in the development of good speech.²

Story-time is a quieter period of listening and concentration, where either a flash card or puppet is used to focus the children’s attention. Many of the stories will have an easy-to-follow steady rhythm. The children participate, either vocally or with an instrument. The carer helps the child to understand when an instrument needs to be played – again, it is important that the child and adult work together. The final section of the programme uses traditional nursery rhymes, encouraging language skills, and regularly features simple counting songs. It ends with the Hokey cokey – a happy, lively song that encourages everyone to join in. As this is always the last song, the children soon realise that it is time for the class to end.

18 COMMUNITY PRACTITIONER August 2008 Volume 81 Number 8

Box 1: Quotes from carers

‘Socially, Musical Minis has been a marvellous experience for both Jack and myself. We have been made to feel like part of a team throughout, and I know that Jack and I will always have a great time on a Monday morning.’

‘We have really enjoyed coming, and it has been lovely to see Daniel grow in confidence as a result!’

‘Thank you for drawing Ellis out of his shell!’

‘Anderson has gained confidence by coming to the classes. He really enjoys all aspects of the class – dancing, singing and using all of the instruments.’

‘Hannah has definitely grown in confidence since starting Musical Minis. Her language has developed considerably too.’

Maintaining focus

To deliver a highly structured programme without being regimented is not easy. One of the biggest difficulties is the fact that toddlers like to toddle. Why, when a baby has just learnt to walk, would it want to sit still? Intelligent children are often into everything – that is how they learn. Ensuring that the child continues to be included without focusing attention on it has proven to be best practice. Making sure that whatever is happening in the circle is simply too exciting to miss usually results in the child wanting to return to see what is going on. At other times, involving the child as a ‘helper’ and encouraging them to assist in the session has a positive effect. When carers do not participate – or spend too much time chatting to each other – the challenge can be significant. One way of dealing with this is to focus on the child in their care. Drawing everyone’s attention toward the child in a positive way will also make the carer focus more on what is happening in the session. If there are two particularly talkative carers, one tactic can be for the session leader or assistant to sit between them. When designing the programme, the instrument session was intended to provide time when carers can talk among themselves. Indeed, the leader and assistant will make a point of mixing with all the children and carers, talking with them and demonstrating the correct use of the instruments they are using.

Support and training

When the decision was taken to offer the business as a franchise to individuals or as a licence to Sure Starts and children’s centres, the greatest concern was to ensure consistency of delivery. To overcome this, a comprehensive training programme was devised that focused extensively on ensuring the franchisee or licensee understood exactly what each element of the programme was intended to achieve. It was considered important that full initial support was available through hands-on training, training manuals and DVDs. On-going support is provided through email, phone calls, conferences and follow up visits where required. More recently, a network of experienced regional managers has also been established.

Box 2: Quotes from organisations

‘Musical Minis have brought a lot of fun and enjoyment to the children in our nursery… the children experience something new every time.’

‘The children get more confident as they get used to the routine and learn valuable lessons about turn-taking and communication, as well as rhythm- and rhyme-based learning.’

‘Our particular group, which includes children with visual impairments and complex disabilities, might present problems for some session leaders, but we are grateful for the way you so positively promote inclusion for all.’

Something for everyone

Children’s centres may experience difficulty in delivering multicultural programmes while also working to improve a child’s language ability, since exposing a child to a myriad of languages might be confusing or even regressive.³, 4,5 However, the programme has proven to be a great help to carers and children for whom English is a second language, as the stories, music and actions introduce English in a fun manner.

Toddlers like to toddle. Why, when a baby has just learnt to walk, would it want to sit still?

Children from every faith and background are encouraged to mix together. All ages and abilities are facilitated in a single group, and each child can benefit in ways appropriate to their particular stage of development. Musical Minis is keen to integrate special needs children with others, and some of our most rewarding experiences have come with children who have managed to participate fully in sessions despite their disabilities. Hyperactive children, those with special needs and multiple birth children have all benefited from attending the sessions.


Musical Minis runs in over 100 venues, including 30 Sure Start children’s centres. For more information, Tel: 020 8868 0001, email: or see:


1. Department for Children, Schools and Families. Statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage. London: Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2008.

2. Condon WS, Sander LW. Neonate movement is synchronized with adult speech: interactional participation and language acquisition. Science, 1974; 183(120): 99-101.

3. Sebastián-Gallés N, Echeverría S, Bosch L. The influence of initial exposure on lexical representation: comparing early and simultaneous bilinguals. Journal of Memory and Language, 2005; 52(2): 240-55.

4. Sebastian-Gallés N, Rodríguez-Fornells A, de Diego- Balaguer R, Díaz B. First- and second-language phonological representations in the mental lexicon. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 2006; 18(8): 1277-91.

5. Quiñones-Eatman J. Pre-school second language acquisition: what we know and how we can effectively communicate with young second language learners. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois, 2001.

August 2008 Volume 81 Number 8 COMMUNITY PRACTITIONER 19

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